India's External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar has slammed the Biden administration's proposal to provide $450 million worth of spares and services for Pakistan's F-16s, saying no one is fooled by claims that these highly capable fighter aircraft are meant only for counter-terrorism operations.
And, on a separate issue, the Minister left the door open for a possible role for India in mediating the Ukraine-Russia war. Mexico proposed last week at the UN Security Council that a committee of Heads of state and government, including Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pope Francis, could help UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres end the war.
Jaishankar kicked off a four-day visit to Washington DC with a first-of-its-kind public interaction for an Indian External Affairs Minister with the Indian American community: a Q&A in which he took unscreened questions from the audience, which, it must be noted, comprised largely of old fans and new fans -- the moderator, for instance, repeatedly called him a "rockstar", and his every answer was greeted with multiple round of applause, with the most excited springing to their feet. Visiting External Affairs usually confine such Q&As to reporters and audiences at think-tank events.
The Minister answered a range of questions from Russia's invasion of Ukraine and Pakistan to Kashmir, education, health and his own experiences as a long-time career diplomat.
"Very honestly, it's a relationship that has neither ended up serving Pakistan well, nor (is it) serving American interests," the Minister said in response to the F-16 spares, which has greatly exercised some Indian-Americans. He framed his criticism of the package in the overall context of a bilateral relationship, which he argued, has been mutually dysfunctional for both Pakistan and the US.
"It is really for the US today to reflect ... the merits of this relationship," Jaishankar added, asking what it wants with this package.
"For someone to say I'm doing this because it is all counter-terrorism content and so, when you are talking of an aircraft like a capability of an F-16 where everybody knows, you know where they are deployed and what is their use," the Minister said, and added, "You're not fooling anybody by saying these things."
The Biden administration informed the US congress earlier in September that it proposed to provide $450 million worth of spares and services for Pakistan's US-made F-16 for their "sustainment". No new capabilities or munitions are part of the package, which, it was stated, will also not alter the military balance in the region.
The US administration claimed in the notification that these F-16s are meant for counter-terrorism operations. But Pakistan has used them for other purposes as well, most recently in an air combat with Indian fighters jets in February 2019. India later said it shot down one of the F-16 deployed.
"If I were to speak to an American policy-maker, I would really make the case (that) look what you are doing," Jaishankar said further.
"Forget about us. It's actually not good for you what you're doing, reflect on the history, look at the last 20 years."
Jaishankar will have the opportunity to convey his advice to plenty of American policy-makers he will be meeting over the next few days, including his US counterpart Antony Blinken.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh had lodged an official protest with the US conveying India's concern in a phone call with his counterpart Lloyd Austen, but clearly disquiet over the proposal runs deep and wide in the Modi government.
Jaishankar's response to a question about a possible role for India in mediating an end to the Ukraine-Russia war expertly framed. He did not rule it out. But he also made it clear India is not campaigning for it.
"If we can help in some way we will be obviously responsible enough to do that," the Minister said, adding, "I think the participants know that the rest of the world knows that. Beyond that what happens that's in the realm of diplomacy so I can't say anything."
Mexico has proposed that Modi should mediate between Russia and Ukraine. Foreign Minister Marcelo Luis Ebrard Casaubon suggested it officially during a meeting of the UN Security Council debate on Ukraine in New York on Thursday.
"Based on its pacifist vocation, Mexico believes that the international community must now channel its best efforts to achieve peace," Casaubon said.
"In this regard, I would like to share with you the proposal of the President of Mexico, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, to strengthen the mediation efforts of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, through the formation of a Committee for Dialogue and Peace in Ukraine with the participation of other heads of state and government, including, if possible, His Excellency Narendra Modi and His Holiness Pope Francis."